Myth or reality: Is Haiti safer today?
By Olivia Nielsen, Sabine Kast, Guilaine Victor, Mark Broughton, and Lucienne Cross
As the saying goes: earthquakes don’t kill people, poor quality construction does. In many countries, building practices tend to be deeply embedded cultural norms; but if disasters occur due to human error, then we have the power to correct our mistakes and save countless lives.
In the 11 years since the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Miyamoto International, NGOs, donors and the Government of Haiti have conducted hundreds of training programs to reinforce better construction practices. In fact, such build-back-better programs can be found in many post-disaster countries from Ecuador to Indonesia – but are they really working to change construction practices?
Promising results from a mason survey
Together, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Miyamoto have trained hundreds of masons in lifesaving techniques, such as proper use of reinforcing steel and mixing structural concrete with quality materials. In November, USAID and Miyamoto set out to measure the impact of such training programs by introducing a pop quiz for construction workers throughout Port-au-Prince. A total of 45 teams representing four areas of the capital (including informal areas) were randomly selected to build a sample masonry wall and reinforced concrete column. Their work was evaluated by independent evaluators with engineering and masonry expertise.
Though we suspected that practices had improved in the last decade, the results were heartwarming. 97% of teams selected appropriate construction materials based on Haiti’s Ministry of Public Works, Transportation and Communications (MTPTC) guidelines, including structural-use cement, properly sourced and shaped aggregates, and quality masonry blocks.
In addition, 80% of the teams constructed reinforced concrete columns in compliance with the guidelines, including 135-degree hooks on column ties that reduce failure, and proper engagement of columns with the foundation.
According to Miyamoto’s analysis of one- and two-story buildings, these simple changes can reduce the probability of collapse during a severe earthquake from over 50% to less than 25%. In Port-au-Prince, where nearly 200,000 homes, schools and government buildings were damaged in the 2010 earthquake – this is a welcomed improvement.
Another notable finding was that less than 40% of masons evaluated had formal construction training and only one in five masons had participated in post-earthquake reconstruction efforts. Based on the survey results, none of the participants had been trained by Miyamoto’s mason programs throughout the last decade. In fact, just a third of the masons evaluated were aware of the MTPTC guidelines, a hopeful indicator of grassroots dissemination and informal sharing of these life-saving standards – as well as the need for continued outreach.
These surveys provide concrete evidence (pun intended) that build-back-better trainings not only work among participants but help promote disaster-resistant practices throughout the industry and solidify new cultural norms. Promoting behavioral change takes time and persistence, but the results can last for generations to come.